Sucrose, glucose, and fructose are three common types of sugar that are absorbed differently and have slightly different effects on the body. Whether they occur naturally in foods or are added to them also makes a big difference in how they affect your health.
If you’re trying to cut back on sugar, you may wonder whether the type of sugar matters.
Sucrose, glucose, and fructose are three types of sugar that contain the same number of calories gram for gram. They’re all found naturally in fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and grains but are also added to many processed foods.
They differ in their chemical structures, the way your body digests and metabolizes them, and how they affect your health.
This article examines the main differences between sucrose, glucose, and fructose and why they matter.
Sucrose is the scientific name for table sugar.
Sugars are categorized as monosaccharides or disaccharides. Disaccharides are made up of two linked monosaccharides and are broken back down into monosaccharides during digestion (
Sucrose is a disaccharide consisting of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule, or 50% glucose and 50% fructose.
It’s a naturally occurring carbohydrate found in many fruits, vegetables, and grains, but it’s also added to many processed foods, such as candy, ice cream, breakfast cereals, canned foods, soda, and other sweetened beverages.
Table sugar and the sucrose found in processed foods are commonly extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets.
Sucrose tastes less sweet than fructose alone but sweeter than glucose alone (2).
Glucose is a simple sugar, or monosaccharide. It’s your body’s preferred carb-based energy source (
Monosaccharides are made up of one single unit of sugar and thus cannot be broken down into simpler compounds.
They’re the building blocks of carbohydrates.
In foods, glucose is most commonly bound to another simple sugar to form either polysaccharide starches or disaccharides, such as sucrose and lactose (
It’s often added to processed foods in the form of dextrose, which is extracted from corn or wheat.
Glucose is less sweet than both fructose and sucrose (2).
Fructose, or “fruit sugar,” is a monosaccharide like glucose (
It’s naturally found in fruit, honey, agave, and most root vegetables. Moreover, it’s commonly added to processed foods in the form of high fructose corn syrup.
Fructose is sourced from sugar cane, sugar beets, and corn. High -fructose corn syrup is made from cornstarch and contains more fructose than glucose, compared with regular corn syrup (
Of the three sugars, fructose has the sweetest taste but the least impact on your blood sugar (
Sucrose is made up of the simple sugars glucose and fructose. Sucrose, glucose, and fructose are found naturally in many foods but are also added to processed products.
Your body digests and absorbs monosaccharides and disaccharides differently.
Since monosaccharides are already in their simplest form, they don’t need to be broken down before your body can use them. They’re absorbed directly into your bloodstream, primarily in your small intestine (5).
On the other hand, your body must break down disaccharides like sucrose into simple sugars before absorbing them.
Once the sugars are in their simplest form, they’re metabolized differently.
Glucose absorption and use
It raises blood sugar more quickly than other sugars, which stimulates the release of insulin (
Insulin is needed for glucose to enter your cells (
Your body tightly controls your blood sugar levels. When they get too low, glycogen is broken down into glucose and released into your blood to be used for energy (
If glucose is unavailable, your liver can make this type of sugar from other fuel sources (
Fructose absorption and use
It raises blood sugar levels more gradually than glucose and does not appear to immediately affect insulin levels (
However, even though fructose doesn’t raise your blood sugar right away, it may have more long-term negative effects.
Your liver has to convert fructose into glucose before your body can use it for energy.
Eating large amounts of fructose on a high calorie diet can raise blood triglyceride levels (
Excessive fructose intake may also raise the risk of metabolic syndrome and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (
Sucrose absorption and use
Enzymes in your mouth partially break down sucrose into glucose and fructose. However, the majority of sugar digestion happens in the small intestine (5).
The enzyme sucrase, which is made by the lining of your small intestine, splits sucrose into glucose and fructose. The glucose and fructose are then absorbed into your bloodstream as described above (15).
The presence of glucose increases the amount of fructose that is absorbed and also stimulates the release of insulin. Excessive absorption of fructose can promote the increased creation of fat stores in the liver (
This means that eating fructose and glucose together may harm your health more than eating them separately (17).
It may explain why added sugars like high fructose corn syrup are linked to various health issues.
Glucose and fructose are absorbed directly into your bloodstream, while sucrose must be broken down first. Glucose is used for energy or stored as glycogen. Fructose is converted to glucose or stored as fat.
Your body converts fructose to glucose in the liver to use it for energy. Excess fructose from processed foods and beverages places a burden on your liver, which may lead to a series of metabolic problems (
Naturally derived fructose from fruit sources is not associated with the same negative health outcomes. Fruit does not contain the same combination of glucose and fructose that the widely used artificial ingredient high fructose corn syrup does.
Additionally, the health benefits of eating fruit outweigh any potential negative effects of its natural fructose, given the high fiber content and vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in fruit (
Fruit should be eaten as part of a balanced diet that also consists of whole grains, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. The 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults eat 2–2.5 servings of fruit daily (
Several studies have demonstrated the harmful effects of high fructose corn syrup. These include insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, obesity, fatty liver disease, and metabolic syndrome (
In one 10-week study, people who drank fructose-sweetened beverages had an 8.6% increase in belly fat, compared to 4.8% in those who drank glucose-sweetened drinks (
Another study found that while all added sugars can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity, high fructose corn syrup may be the most harmful (
Since fructose is metabolized in your liver like alcohol, some evidence suggests that it may be similarly addictive. One study found that it activates the reward pathway in your brain, which may lead to increased sugar cravings (27,
Fructose in processed foods and beverages has been linked to several negative health effects, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and fatty liver disease. Consuming fructose may also increase feelings of hunger and sugar cravings.
There is no need to avoid sugars that are naturally found in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. These foods also contain nutrients, fiber, and water, which counter any of their negative effects.
The harmful health effects associated with sugar consumption are due to the high amount of added sugar in the typical Western diet.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends limiting added sugars to 5–10% of your daily calorie consumption. In other words, if you’re eating 2,000 calories per day, keep added sugars to less than 25–50 grams (31).
To put that into perspective, one 12-ounce (355 ml) can of soda contains nearly 40 grams of added sugar, which is enough to push you over your daily limit (
Sugars are not only added to foods that are obviously sweet like sodas, ice cream, and candy. They are also added to foods you wouldn’t necessarily expect, such as condiments, sauces, and frozen foods.
When buying processed foods, always read the ingredient list carefully to look for hidden sugars. Keep in mind that sugar can be listed by over 50 different names.
The most effective way to reduce your sugar intake is to eat mostly whole and unprocessed foods.
Added sugars should be limited, but there is no need to worry about those found naturally in foods. Consuming a diet high in whole foods and low in processed foods is the best way to avoid added sugars.
Glucose and fructose are simple sugars, or monosaccharides.
Your body can absorb them more easily than the disaccharide sucrose, which must be broken down first.
Added fructose may have the most negative health effects, but experts agree that you should limit your intake of all types of added sugar.
However, there is no need to limit the sugars found naturally in fruits and vegetables.
To ensure a healthy diet, eat whole foods whenever possible and save added sugars for the occasional special treat.